Annapolis Measure Would Ban Plastic Grocery Bags

By Raymond McCaffrey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 2, 2007

The City of Annapolis might soon officially answer -- and render moot -- one of the most burning questions of our time: paper or plastic?

The city's answer could be paper, at least according to a proposed ordinance that would ban plastic grocery bags from being distributed in the city.

Alderman Sam Shropshire (D-Ward 7) said his measure, which is similar to legislation in the works in Baltimore, is designed to eliminate the environmental threat of discarded plastic bags.

Fish, birds and turtles can die from intestinal problems when they accidentally ingest discarded plastic bags that find their way into the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding tributaries, Shropshire said. And paper, he said, is more easily composted than plastic bags, which can take as long as 1,000 years to degrade.

"No plastic checkout bags. It's the right thing to do because of our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "I want Annapolis to set the example to Baltimore and the entire state that we are going to take a leadership position against any type of pollution going into the bay."

He plans to introduce the legislation to the City Council next Monday.

If enacted, the city's plastic bag ban would be part of another trend: a wave of recent laws in Maryland designed to protect the environment. The measures advanced by the General Assembly during the past session included proposals aimed at cutting pollution coming from storm sewers and reducing vehicle carbon-dioxide emissions.

Cindy Schwartz, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, said the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) had "changed things dramatically. It's a more green-friendly administration. People look at what's happening with the state legislature, and they follow suit."

But opponents of a plastic bag ban -- namely supermarkets -- are not convinced that paper is necessarily greener. And they say consumers won't like absorbing the increased cost of paper bags, which cost about 5 cents each, as opposed to 2 cents apiece for plastic bags, according to Barry F. Scher, a spokesman for Giant Food.

Opponents of plastic bans also say plastic bags are in demand as a recyclable material, in particular as a component for plastic decks. Safeway and Giant supermarkets encourage the recycling of plastic bags and the use of reusable bags that the supermarkets sell.

"Last year, we recycled over 3 million pounds of plastic bags and plastic wrap that people took to our stores," Scher said.

Customers, he added, have already answered the proverbial question. "We don't even ask anymore, 'Paper or plastic?' Over 90 percent of the customers use plastic."

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